“There was a sense of, it’s time to destroy TV.”
Forty years ago, Saturday Night Live not only shattered television’s conventions—it permanently shaped the face of all subsequent Hollywood comedy.
That above quote—courtesy of Chevy Chase taken from director Bao Nguyen’s highly quotable SNL documentary Live From New York!—perfectly describes what Lorne Michaels and the rest of his inaugural Saturday Night Live team did back in October 1975, when the weekly sketch comedy debuted on NBC. Hoping to make an in-the-moment “cross between 60 Minutes and Monty Python,” comedy-writer-turned-mega-producer Michaels birthed what would become both a cultural and New York City institution.
Or, as Amy Poehler describes SNL to its younger viewers, “the show your parents used to have to sex to but now you watch from your computer during the day.”
Last night, inside the Beacon Theater, Live From New York! opened the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, bringing with it a packed house and multiple laugh-out-loud moments. Feeling the night’s, it’s-all-about-the-laughs vibe, TFF co-founder Robert De Niro, while introducing the film alongside co-founder Jane Rosenthal, joked that the trio of SNL episodes he himself has hosted over the years, “must have been the nights that they couldn’t get Alec Baldwin.”
Nguyen, however, was able to get Alec Baldwin for Live From New York!, as well as a who's-who roster of former SNL cast members, along with past hosts and guests like John Goodman, Bill O’Reilly, and former Beastie Boys member Adam “Ad-Rock” Having “stayed relevant from Word processors through to Apple watches,” Saturday Night Live has thrived as a satirical reflection of everywhere America’s been, both culturally and politically. Nguyen’s loosely structured film echoes the tone of the show it’s about, resisting the historical-documentary lure of stiff chronology and dry-as-sand social studies. With its vibrant, almost stream-of-consciousness structure, Live From New York! impressively compresses 40 years’ worth of milestones and memories into a vibrant 80-minute package.
The film's biggest strength: its endearing candidness. Remembering the time in October 1992 when Sinead O’Connor ripped the photo of Pope John Paul II on SNL’s stage, Chris Rock reasons, with that come-and-get-me grin of his, that she had a, “legitimate beef.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who many forget was once on SNL from 1982 to 1985, doesn’t hesitate to say that when she was a part of it, the show “definitely [had] a sexist environment,” while current cast member Leslie Jones calls out those who’ve hated on her polarizing “Weekend Update” rant about slavery by confidently declaring the bit as “f**king brilliant!”
Crowd-pleasing moments drive Live From New York!, but so do several more sober discussions, like the insider memories of how Saturday Night Live helped bring NYC back from mournful despair after the horrific, at-their-doorsteps events of 9/11. Lorne Michaels says it best in Nguyen’s film’s closing moments: “We always want to be an inspiration; we always want to have a voice. The moment you stop aspiring to that, you shouldn’t be here.”
There was, however, one slight missed opportunity last night: Michaels should have followed the screening with, “And if you don’t want to throw some bows and meet hoes in different area codes, you shouldn’t be here.” He then could’ve passed the microphone to Ludacris, the rapper and one-time SNL host who nevertheless still closed out TFF’s Opening Night celebration with a half-hour medley of his biggest hits. It was a scene those two Night at the Roxbury guys would've appreciated: hundreds of TFF attendees—some clad in dapper suits and formal dresses while others were casually dressed in hoodies and sneakers—bopping to Luda tracks like “Money Maker,” “Move Bitch,” and “How Low” as if they were inside the NYC nightclub Pacha. You haven't really experienced the Atlanta hip-hop king's raucous "Stand Up" until you've seen an elder film critic uncontrollably shake to it.
As Ludacris pointed out in between songs, last night marked his first-ever visit to the Tribeca Film Festival, but what about those of you who weren’t lucky enough to occupy the Beacon Theater last night? Here’s your chance to feel like you were there. Check out exclusive video clips from TFF’s Opening Night festivities coming soon. Think of these as live-action #Latergrams.
Let's see all of the photos you snapped at the premiere of @lfnymovie @beacontheatre for the Opening Night of #TFF2015! Use our hashtags: #tribecatogether & #TFF2015. @jerm_cohen @streetdreamsmag @att
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